Meet Homo heidelbergensis

1 minute read

The Mauer mandible comes from just southeast of Heidelberg, Germany, and was found in ancient sands deposited just more than 600,000 years ago. Upon its description, the mandible was attributed to a new species, Homo heidelbergensis.

Through the years, anthropologists considered H. heidelbergensis to be a more primitive species than Neandertals, very different from recent humans. Many anthropologists attribute other remains from the European Middle Pleistocene to this species. Probably the most important sample would be the Sima de los Huesos remains from Spain, but other crania and skeletal elements from sites across Europe have been put into the species. A few anthropologists would also include specimens from other parts of the world.

Other anthropologists disagree. They believe that Mauer is an early member of the same population that includes Neandertals. Others would go further, noting the evidence that Neandertals are part of the ancestry of modern humans, and put Mauer into our species, Homo sapiens.

This station has several mandibles for you to compare with Mauer, including some Neandertals, modern humans, and Homo erectus individuals.

What to do: Compare the morphology of the Neandertal and Mauer mandibles to the modern humans. What features differ?

Consider what you know about earlier hominid mandibles (or compare one at the station). Do you think Mauer is a possible ancestor of Neandertals? What about an ancestor of modern humans? Does it have mostly primitive dental features, or does it share derived features with one or the other?